After 19 games, No. 3 UCLA softball still has yet to suffer a loss this season. This start is the sixth-best in school history, behind the team’s 25-win start back in 2004.
While offense is the most visible of the stats, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez recently attributed the defense and pitching as big reasons why the Bruins are off to this strong start.
UCLA’s pitching staff has thrown eight shutouts to this point in the season and seven of them have come in complete games.
Redshirt sophomore Rachel Garcia is responsible for four of them. Against Fordham, she struck out 17 and then 10 against Syracuse. On the offensive side, she’s batting .422 which is good for sixth on the team.
“She’s playing great softball right now and representing both in the circle and at the plate,” Inouye-Perez said.
Two more Bruins have pitched complete game shutouts. Freshman Holly Azevedo has one to her name, coming against Middle Tennessee. Senior Johanna Grauer threw one as well against UAB.
UCLA has allowed 3 runs or fewer in 16 of its first 19 games.
The team ERA is 1.38 led by Garcia and Azevedo with 0.70 and 1.00 respectively.
Back during the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, the Bruins held each opponent under 2 runs. The Bruins got their first two shutouts of the season as well as their first three run-rule victories there.
So far UCLA has played two other ranked opponents. Against No. 10 LSU, the game lasted only five innings and UCLA held them to just 1 run in a 9-1 contest. One more inning needed to be played against No. 21 Minnesota to enforce a12-4 run-rule victory.
Senior pitcher Selina Ta’amilo completed the staff when she made her first start of the season against Grand Canyon after recovering from injury over the summer.
“It was definitely hard having surgery, but spending that time in rehab and really focusing on getting myself better honestly wasn’t that big of a miss,” Ta’amilo said. “(Rehab) just allowed me to be better for what really mattered which is this season.”
Ta’amilo lasted 1 1/3 innings giving up 3 runs and three walks in her first game back. Since then, she’s collected three wins including her last outing against San Diego on Saturday where she threw for four innings and struck out three.
On defense, the Bruins have a team fielding percentage of .976 and five starters have yet to commit an error.
Among the top five teams in the country, UCLA’s fielding percentage is No. 4. No. 1 Washington carries a .985 and No. 5 Tennessee has put up .963, but they’re all within .022 of each other.
Sophomore utility Bubba Nickles, one of the starters with zero errors, has spent the entire season at center field.
“As far as not making an error, I just focus on trying to get an out for my team,” Nickles said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to get outs so that we can go hit and get more runs.”
Inouye-Perez has also done a lot of mixing and matching on defense as well.
On Sunday against Santa Clara, redshirt senior outfielder Jelly Felix started at third where junior Brianna Tautalafua usually plays. Tautalafua started at first base for the first time this season.
Inouye-Perez said that if there was one word to describe the defense it would be versatile.
“We’ve been able to rotate people in all positions which allows great versatility and team chemistry,” Inouye-Perez said. “We haven’t been perfect, but a special quality about this team is things can happen, but it’s what they do after in their response that is probably the most impressive. When we make errors they respond well to it together – that’s where I think the success is.”